Plus: Burnley’s managerial gamble looks to have paid off, Romelu Lukaku’s cameo catches the eye, while Wolves and West Ham are both beaten…
Liverpool’s title challenge was in the balance at half-time of the Merseyside derby with Everton’s resistance testing the patience of the Anfield crowd and the temperament of Jurgen Klopp’s players. Liverpool had not even managed a shot on target.
“We were not good in the first half,” said Klopp. “I can admit that easily because it was obvious. Everyone saw it. But that is not good and good in the same moment because if it is 0-0 at half-time you have the chance to improve with simple messages
“That is what we did.”
What were those messages?
It was a crucial team-talk, but what were the details?
“There is one area where we score the goals, that is behind the last line. I don’t think we showed up there at all in the first half, to be honest. We played around the formation.
“It is really difficult, we had 87 per cent possession? I am not sure if that is a new record.
“It is really difficult, especially with the counter-attacking threat they have, because if they have one thing it is speed up front and Anthony Gordon, obviously, is a real talent. He is really quick and we had our problems there.
“So, we showed actually one situation and we stopped it eight times and we showed what we could have done differently in the specific moments. So, accelerations, playing in the half spaces, getting behind the line, chipping balls in behind the line.
“It can happen against a deep formation that you have too many players behind the ball, obviously.
“So, we had a lot of passers but not a lot of receivers. The receivers only really move when they see that they can get the ball. We need these movements without getting the ball to destruct the formation a little bit and we did not do that.
“In football, there is always an explanation for things you don’t do well. That’s the good thing about it. So we improved and then we thought that with the changes that we made we could then give them another task to deal with, adding a second striker in the centre.
“We did not need another build-up player, really, in these moments, we had enough players with the ball in possession.”
Naby Keita was removed. Divock Origi was introduced. It left Liverpool more exposed defensively, with Gordon’s raids down the left proving a source of hope for Everton. It was something Klopp tried to adjust to stop.
“Anthony was on his bike a couple of times and we cannot leave Anthony out there alone, it makes no sense,” he explained.
“We told Trent to play from a little bit deeper and we wanted Fab on that side as well. So we knew where the threat was coming from. We still could not always defend it in the first place, that is how it is.
“But if you don’t take risks you cannot win a football game.”
Klopp’s risks paid off, changing the game. But he credited his players.
“But if Div and Mo don’t see the situation, pass the ball, follow the ball, chip it to the second post and Robbo probably for the first time in the game shows up at the second post, then we are talking about a 0-0. So you need these moments.
“Credit to the boys that they found a way.” So did he.
For long periods of the Merseyside derby, Everton must have felt like they were the ones tormenting Liverpool, threatening to dash their hopes of winning the Premier League title. Instead, the visitors were reliving their worst nightmare. A nightmare called Divock Origi.
His impact here was not quite as dramatic as the stoppage-time winner that he scored in this fixture in 2018, nor as emphatic as the two goals that he came up with in a 5-2 victory the following year. But this contribution may yet prove to be even more important.
Liverpool were not only meandering after an hour, they were giving up chances on the counter-attack. The situation was perilous. But Origi set up Mohamed Salah to cross for Andy Robertson’s breakthrough goal and then scored the second himself. Game over.
Jurgen Klopp’s smile was wide. It just hits different when the big Belgian makes the difference. Having already scored a stoppage-time winner at Wolves, this was his third Premier League goal of the season despite not starting once.
Klopp deserves credit for turning to him when he did. It was not a desperation move but a calculation that with Everton defending deep, his presence in the box was what was required. Introducing Luis Diaz at the same time, the changes changed the game.
Diaz will have many more magical moments at Anfield. Origi may not. His contract is up in the summer. The home supporters were grateful there was just one more gift for the road. The away supporters will just be glad that his derby days may now be over.
Lukaku takes his chance in underrated cameo
“Show you really want it. Go and show that desire!”
Those were the instructions from Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink after Romelu Lukaku put in a poor display in Chelsea’s 4-2 defeat to Arsenal in midweek.
In the Blues’ 1-0 win over West Ham, the Belgian forward only got 15 minutes or so to show his worth, but it looks like Lukaku heeded some of that advice.
Chelsea were lacking a bit of panache up front, with Kai Havertz playing passively and Timo Werner missing some good chances – but Lukaku ended up playing an understated role in getting the Blues’ eventual winner.
Christian Pulisic scored in the 90th minute but the real reason that goal went in came five minutes earlier. Lukaku had showed determination to get on to a loose ball ahead of Craig Dawson, who could only tug him back and concede a penalty.
The Hammers defender was given his marching orders for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity and while Jorginho missed the resulting spot kick, Chelsea had more space to manoeuvre due to their man advantage.
The pressure eventually told for West Ham, who conceded when Pulisic struck home Marcos Alonso’s cross late on. But that goal came from Lukaku’s determination to get Chelsea that opportunity.
The Blues needed a focal point up front against the Hammers and Lukaku provided that when his side needed him most. Now it’s time for the Belgian to produce that more often.
The FA Cup final against Liverpool is just a few weeks away and the Belgian can stake a claim for a starting spot if he keeps that up.
West Ham’s focus clear
“I want the players to be ready.”
West Ham will be disappointed they didn’t cling on to avoid Pulisic’s late winner at Stamford Bridge, but there is a bigger picture for Hammers boss David Moyes and his side.
That was clearly evident when Moyes made six changes, with key players Declan Rice, Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen named on the substitute’s bench. Moyes already has quite a depleted squad, especially in defence, and he could not afford any more headaches with West Ham’s European adventures set to continue this week.
The Europa League semi-final against Eintracht Frankfurt is firmly on the mind of everyone associated with West Ham, and so it should be. Thursday’s first leg against the Bundesliga side is huge for the Hammers, especially with their route to the Champions League via the Premier League looking increasingly difficult.
Moyes described it as “one of the biggest games for the club in a long time”. However, despite their focus really being elsewhere, West Ham put in a decent show at Chelsea, and it may prove a worthwhile exercise for Moyes as many of his fringe players got useful minutes at what is a crucial time of the season.
Who knows when more injuries might strike and those fringe players need to step up? The minutes will help.
“With the game midweek I felt it was important [to change the team]. We have been in good shape and spirits all year. We shouldn’t be downbeat by today.”
It will not be difficult for West Ham to move on. Thursday’s game is what players dream about and it will be an occasion to savour under the lights in east London. And now, after the decisions taken by Moyes today, the West Ham squad will be in better shape for it.
The decision to sack Sean Dyche after 10 years was a huge risk by Burnley chairman Alan Pace, especially when it became apparent that there was no clear succession plan in place.
Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher described the move as a “joke”, adding on Twitter: “If you had given him a decent budget you would never have had a worry about getting relegated.”
However, Mike Jackson has breathed new life into the squad since stepping up from the U23s to takeover as caretaker manager, winning seven points from his first three games.
It remains to be seen whether Pace will hire a new permanent manager before the end of the season, but in the build up to the game against Wolves, some of the Burnley players made it clear they want Jackson to stay in place.
Midfielder Josh Brownhill said “why change if it’s not broken?” and it’s hard to argue with him.
The Burnley chairman has already taken a big gamble. That change was designed to jolt Burnley into life, but another roll of the dice could derail their bid for Premier League survival.
Pace should stick rather than twist on this occasion. Jackson has done enough to earn the role until the end of the season and while there are no assurances of safety, he is a safe bet to keep the Clarets performing for the final five games of the season.
After more than two weeks off since their last game, Sunday’s trip to relegation-threatened Burnley presented a perfect chance for Wolves to reignite their push for European qualification.
They looked the better of the two sides in the first half, which in fairness was partly down to the fact Burnley only had two full days of recovery compared to Wolves’ 15.
However, it was the same old story for Wolves. They dominated possession and found lots of space in between Burnley’s midfield and defence, but struggled in the final third.
Burnley 1-0 Wolves – Match report
How the teams lined up | Match stats
Even the return of Raul Jimenez after a two-match suspension couldn’t aide Wolves in their bid to become more potent offensively. The striker was missing on two occasions when Fabio Silva fired in dangerous crosses to the Burnley six-yard box.
Somehow, despite three defeats in their last four matches to sides beneath them in the table – Leeds, Newcastle, Burnley – Wolves remain just three points off seventh-placed West Ham and have a game in hand on their rivals.
There is still plenty of hope for Wolves with West Ham distracted by their Europa League campaign and Manchester United on an almighty slide.
Whether Wolves can make the most of it is a different matter.